The Social Media Bill of Rights for Customers

Document symbolizing Bill of RightsIn my last post, I raised an interesting point about how one brand was not truly understanding how Twitter worked. And this has led me to write this follow-up post talking about what brands should expect to give to their customers. Just like the airline industry has started to implement “passenger bill of rights”, so too should there be something called the “social media bill of rights” for customers. These items here are not meant to be set in stone and are not anything legally consequential, but more for businesses and marketers to really understand what consumers really expect from a social media practice from a brand.

So what rights do customers have when it comes to brands using social media to reach out to their target audiences? Some of these might be surprising, while others may seem a bit more obvious.

The right to have a conversation

For brands who plan on using social media, one of the things that customers should expect is dialogue and response. After all, there is the word social in this strategy. The defining thing about web 2.0 & social media is that it’s more about the community. Customers have the right to expect brands to engage with them or expect them to be more vocal through the use of tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and even blogs. Brands should not expect to control their message nor should they set the expectations that customers will be at their beck and call – because that’s not going to happen.

As I mentioned in my last post, with regards to Embassy Suites, what they are prone to doing is pushing out information – they are essentially producing content and throwing it out into the Internet in hopes that someone will pay attention. This is not what social media is for and customers do not deserve this. They have the right to use these tools to talk to companies and expect a response.

The right to the truth

Customers are always interested in the truth. If there was some secret that took place within a company, we’re going to find out sooner or later. How? Through other sources. Companies should not assume that what they provide the public through the use of a press conference or even a press release will satisfy people’s curiosity. Customers have the right to investigate further and if a company tells them that their product has a problem, but offers no other specifics, then customers will most likely seek out other sources of information elsewhere online. Leaks in information often find themselves published somewhere later on…the truth does come out. So brands should not lie to their customers.

The right to opinions & reviews

On the same lines as the right to truth, customers have the right to use social media to seek out additional sources of information to gather all the opinions and reviews about a particular topic or product so that they can get an accurate picture about what they are about to buy. As in the analog world where we used to ask our friends and neighbors about their purchase habits, the Internet has opened up doors to allow customers to instantly share their insights through services like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Facebook, Twitter, message boards and countless other social media tools. No longer are customers bound by what reviews and opinions are posted on a company’s website lest it seem suspect.

The right to non-interference by brands on content creation

Many customers have in, one way or another, had a blog or offered their opinion and feedback online. Social media has opened up the doors for our feedback and criticism and whether you’re a journalist, blogger, influencer or just someone who loves to talk about things online, you have the right to publish whatever you want without fear of consequences or intervention by a brand or company. If companies are shipping out review products to customers or seeing someone in their market being an influencer or constant blogger, they should not interfere. In fact, customers should expect the reviews, advice and thoughts about products that are interesting to them have not been coerced or paid.

The right to privacy

Now this particular right just seems to be a bit of an oxymoron especially when dealing with social media, but customers, while willing to open up on social networks, needs to have their space once in a while and they’re pretty much sharing a lot when it comes to using tools and platforms like Twitter and Facebook. But, what brands should not do is to involve themselves with their customers frequently so that it looks almost intrusive. Customers should not have their information leveraged without their consent and if any data is used because of participation in there service, customers have the right to be made aware of it before information is being used – even if it is in support of their engagement with the product.

The right to data portability

While this may not be totally a customer right, I think that it still holds merit. For those of us that are actively using social media platforms, what we have come to expect is that we are able to access content and data from any computer that we choose from. Customers should have the right to not feel constrained by having to install software onto their company just to interact with a company or other parties. Whether it’s having a live chat support session, sharing documents collaboratively or passing along files on the Internet, customers have the right to expect an easy and simple way of content sharing. Brands should not try and push any campaign or marketing message that will expect customers to be in one location for extended periods of time – they should expect customers to be always moving from laptop to desktop computer to mobile phone.

The right to share

As with social media we have the opportunity to engage in conversation with one another, third-party companies and even the brand itself, one other thing that the customers have a right to is sharing. Sharing is obviously caring and what that means is that we are also being social. Customers have the right and should expect that if a brand has a social media channel, platform, program, campaign or even a landing page, that somewhere on that site or service will be a feature to share with others. If we are being forced to conduct ourselves with a bit of a workaround, then that defeats the understanding of social media. Make it easy for customers to share your information by embedding a Digg button, Facebook “like’ button or even a Tweetmeme feature. Your customers will thank you.

So do we hold these truths to be self-evident?

Now that we’ve established some pretty conceptual “rights” for customers, what are some other rights you think customers should have when dealing with companies or brands that think they have a social media program/campaign going? Do we have any inalienable rights when it comes to using web 2.0 technologies?

Image Credit: hisks /sxc.hu